Many sushi lovers will be shocked to learn that their beloved green paste may not be what it seems – Exploring Shizuoka is a great way to learn the truth and understand more about the origins of this uniquely Japanese plant. Shizuoka wasabi is the best in the world!
Although ‘wasabi’ is now widely used around the world, as a result of an increased appreciation of sushi, and is recognised as a uniquely Japanese product, surprisingly few people actually know much about this plant.
Many would be surprised to know that what they put on their sushi is not ‘real’ wasabi but a mixture of horseradish, mustard and food colouring.
Wasabi (or Wasabia Japonica) has grown wild in Japan’s mountains for thousands of years with full-scale cultivation beginning nearly 500 years ago.
The plant needs very specific conditions in order to grow: North-facing, stable weather conditions with an abundance of cold and clean flowing water.
Even in the right environment, it can take up to as much as 3 years for a wasabi plant to grow large enough to be harvested.
There are two varieties of wasabi grown in Japan – the highest grade is sawa (mountain stream) wasabi, which grows in shallow, clear-flowing water and hata (field) wasabi which is grown in soil.
In Japan, every part of the wasabi plant is eaten – root, stem and leaves all have their place in Japanese cuisine and each has a unique flavour.
Shizuoka’s temperate climate and abundance of mountainous areas and infinite supply of fresh, clean flowing water means it has some of the largest sawa wasabi farms and produces almost half of all wasabi root grown in Japan.
The largest areas for Shizuoka wasabi cultivation are located in Izu peninsula and the mountains of Utogi (North of Shizuoka City). Both areas are accessible by car and offer a unique glimpse into just how labour-intensive the production of wasabi can be.
The True Taste
Many people will be surprised to learn that freshly ground wasabi is not nearly as hot as its packaged counterpart and eating freshly grated wasabi is an entirely different experience to the wasabi you have on your sushi.
Fresh wasabi does not hit you like you the normal stuff, but instead offers a complex taste with only a hint of spice. Freshly grated wasabi is at its best 5 minutes after grating and will start to lose its true flavour after just 15 minutes.
Any trip to Japan is really not complete without trying real Shizuoka wasabi in some form or other – even for those who are often put off by the nostril blasting hotness of tube wasabi bought in a store will be surprised by what they discover.
Some great ways to experience real Shizuoka wasabi include:
– Spend a couple of days in Shuzenji and try the fresh wasabi ice cream
– Visit the wasabi fields in Utogi, where it is believed wasabi was first cultivated
– Try Wasabi Leaf tempura, freshly grate your own wasabi, or try Shizuoka wasabi in Izu
– See 5 other amazing activities in Shizuoka City after your wasabi hit!
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